Epiphany 3 2017

The Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 22, 2017 A+D
St. Matthew 8:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Our Father, who art in heaven.” What does this mean? “With these words, God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” In the explanation to the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, Luther marvelously balances belief and petition—faith and prayer. These go hand in hand, and we are invited to strengthen both every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven.” It’s an address with substance and purpose; it expresses relationship and expectation. We are at the same time confessing that God is eagerly inviting us to pray, and that he promises to hear us like a good father wants to give good things to his children. A Christian cannot properly have one without the other. A living faith prays; and a righteous prayer flows from faith-trusting. Faith in Christ properly expresses itself when, with all boldness and confidence dear children ask their dear Father. And you are certainly dear children, having been born into His family through water and the Word. The Holy Spirit has called you, enlightened you, and keeps you in this faith.

St. Matthew has up to this point in his Gospel recorded the birth of Christ, the visit of the Wisemen, the flight to and back from Egypt, John the Baptist preparing the way and baptizing Jesus, His temptation in the desert, the calling of the disciples, and the Sermon on the Mount. After He came down from the mountain, he is met by the Leper and the Centurion, who both demonstrate and are examples for us of faith and prayer. (Matthew’s first recorded miracles)

The leper doesn’t come right out and ask, but in his confession of what Jesus is capable of, he is asking to be cleansed. Whether the leper believes that Jesus is a prophet like Elisha who healed Naaman of his leprosy, or whether he believed that Jesus was the Son of God, he is confessing that Jesus is a man sent by God with power to help. Therefore, in this faith, he comes seeking a good thing from the Lord. And our Lord ever willing to do good, heals him.

We’re given the impression that the leper is a Jew, and Matthew, the proclaimer that Jesus did not come for the Jews only, follows this healing account with the healing of the Roman centurion’s servant. The centurion is equally indirect in his prayer but even more bold in his faith. He exhorts Jesus in what the ESV translates an appeal, I like the nuance of the word exhort here because an exhortation is an address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something. He says, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home suffering terribly.” He implies that he wants Jesus to do something about it, and he believes that the Lord can (He may have heard the 2 Kings account about Naaman from his Jewish neighbors; or, he may have heard that the people were comparing Jesus to the prophets of old). And in the great demonstration of faith that makes Jesus marvel, he uses his military position to confess that nature is subordinate to Jesus its commander. After emphatically urging Jesus to do something, to believing that it can be done at Jesus’ word, the centurion is sent home with his petition satisfied. He was comforted by the Word of accomplishment by Jesus, and like a good subordinate to the Almighty God, he goes and is not disappointed.

In one respect, you and I as children of God, come asking and believing that God would grant our requests and exhortations. And when we sit here in the Divine Service, or sit in Bible Study, or sit at home in our devotions, our hearts yearn within us for the goodness of God. There are times, I believe, that we can actually feel the Holy Spirit working in us with this yearning. Praise be to the Lord for these times. But what of those times that we don’t feel it? What of those times that we allow our flesh and the world to keep us from prayer? What of those times that we doubt God’s promise to hear us or doubt His power to act? These are also very real times for us as sinners in the flesh. Here, Jesus’ words to St. Peter in the garden of Gethsemane are quite true, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mk 14:38). These are the times that we should repent of our lame excuses and mindless inattention and believe God’s Word. He not only commands us to pray, convicting us of the Law. He also promises to hear us, yea, even more ready to hear than we to ask or pray. What’s more, we have a God who is so in tuned with our needs, He knows what you are going to ask before you do. He cares more about your needs than even you do.

Satan’s naggings and accusations are constantly in your ear. He wants you to believe that the bad things, the painful things, the distressing things that you are going through are because of your lack of prayer or God’s inattention. He tries to make you think that you either didn’t pray for the right things or that you didn’t pray hard enough. These are lies. Our Father in heaven is not an angry god needing to be satiated with just the right prayers at just the right times in order to act in your favor. He is a loving God eager to give you good things, always looking out for your good, always providing for your needs.

Not only did the Son of God come into our world to take on our flesh, suffer, and die for our redemption, but He came to be our mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5), He ascended to the right hand of God. He is our High Priest offering petitions on our behalf to the Father. And as if this weren’t enough, He sent the Holy Spirit, the comforter, to each of us, descending upon us in our Baptisms, remaining in us strengthening our faith through Word and Sacrament, so that we rightly confess that we are filled with the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13). And being filled with the Holy Spirit, He prays for us in our stead. Listen to how St. Paul expresses it, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26). This is how the Scripture is fulfilled that says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). It is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all who believe that Jesus is Lord. So even in those times when you might feel that your faith is weak and your prayers falter, where ever there is faith, the Spirit is interceding for you.

In whatever circumstance you find yourself, whether mourning or rejoicing, your heavenly Father knows, cares, and is with you. You are a child of God through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. He invites you to be bold in your prayer and confident in your faith. And the invitation comes with power to strengthen you for the task. The accounts of the Leper and the Centurion serve as an encouragement to you, showing you what your Father wants. He wants you to ask. He stands ready to hear and to give you the things that are good for this world and for the world to come. This manifestation of Jesus in miracles gives you hope that He cares about you in this world. He cares about your every need. For Jesus is the right hand of majesty that the Father has stretched out to help and defend you in all circumstances.

In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.

The Rev’d Michael N. Frese

Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana

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